Am I a Writer?

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writing

What’s your writer’s Origin Story?

Writing, such a simple idea, but when you sit down to do it becomes such a complicated mess.

This challenge has really made me think about what my goals are, and I don’t think they are what I had originally thought up for myself. My origin story is a pretty long and messy one, I don’t have recollections from my childhood where I sat poised at my desk with stories brimming and notebooks full of short stories and poems, like it seems a lot of writers did. I considered myself a scientific mind until I reached college and epically failed at that idea.

Being an only child I think I have a pretty good imagination, because how else was I going to entertain myself? And I am definitely the creative one in my family, with my mom in the veterinary field and my dad a very analytical political science guy. That being said, the only books I really remember from my youth, besides those I read for school, are the Pony Club books, and Beatrix Potter. Not necessarily the epitome of literature (besides Potter, because she’s amazing). I have always loved history and reading though, so when I started my undergrad as a Chemistry major, both my parents just shook their heads and said Ok.

A year later I switched to History, and added English as my minor. Being a strong writer in high school, it was interesting transitioning into higher education writing, and I struggled with English while progressing in History. I took a Creative Writing class one summer, and it really pushed me out of my comfort zone, I have always been an analytical research writer, and now I am having to come up with short stories and poems, and then read them out loud to my peers!? It was terrifying. The only work I was really proud of was a poem I wrote, based on a historic event, my class loved it as well, and stupid me, I don’t have it anymore because I deleted everything when the class was over and I had my grade. That just illustrates how I never saw myself as a writer; my origin story was still in the making.

Fast forward a couple of years, I now have my masters in History, and my writing has definitely improved, but it’s still analytical writing. I’m trying to figure out how to let my voice shine through in my writing, and I’m very tentatively reaching forward to the creative side, which I know exists somewhere in my mind, with a story of mine that is very slow in the making. I have been giving my brain time to recoup from grad school, and devoting a lot of time to reading to try an unleash some of those creative juices within myself.

So I guess my origin story as a writer is complete, but undergoing some transitions, I’m not sure if I will ever be a published writer, but I think it’s something to keep in mind as a long term goal, and to help me continue with my writing and my story. Writing in general, if for this blog, for historical work, or for my own creative work is something that I want to keep up and enjoy. I think that allows me to call myself a writer, even if it’s not on my resume.

I’m Still Confused

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giver

So I read The Giver  this weekend, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it all. I know I am not going to read the rest of the series, I read all of their synopses and nothing really convinced me to read the rest, and they didn’t really seem to go together all that much, being tied together with very small threads of previous stories. And I just can’t decide if I actually enjoyed the first book anyway. It was only about 130 pages, so it took me about a day to get through, and there were just so many things left unexplained, and things that seemed too far fetched for me to really immerse myself  into and enjoy the book.

My husband read the Wikipedia page about it, and he didn’t come away with a great impression of the book either. He also said that there are two general reactions to the book, mine, in which I didn’t buy into everything that was going on and had too many unanswered questions; and one where you accepted everything about this dysopian (though we don’t know how it got to be that way) world without asking any further questions and just taking everything at face value.

Obviously, I cannot convince myself to join the second group, or I would be reading the rest of the series. I don’t know, it’s not that I didn’t like the book, though I was bored for most of it, I just have too many questions that the author didn’t answer. And there is this weird fantasy aspect that seems to come out of nowhere. Everything is exceptionally unexceptional (I mean people ride bicycles everywhere) and then you have this physical transfer of memories, and some of those memories go back to the Civil War, how does that make any sense?! On a side note, I will be seeing the movie, it looks a lot more fun than the book!

I’m still confused by my experience, have any of you read it? And what were your reactions?

Also, I have not forgotten about Monuments Men I am still plugging away at it. It’s just a long read (not page wise, mental attention wise) when I start to get drowsy I pick up other books to read in between. Eventually I will finish it and talk about how interesting and smart it made me feel, but until then I will mostly be talking about my continued dive into dystopian fiction.

So, I got a bit distracted . . .

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So, as I am sure you all know, Catching Fire came out recently, and I watched it, and then I needed to re-read the entire series over again. So Monuments Men got put on the back burner for about a week. This was the second time I read The Hunger Games and third time I read Catching Fire and Mockingjay and they were as awesome as usual but I have to say, every time I read Mockingjay I like it a little more. Catching Fire will always be my favorite though.

This was the first time I read THG since before the first movie came out; regretfully I was one of those who didn’t know the books existed until the first teaser trailer came out. I picked up a lot more foreshadowing and nuances about the rebellion and whatnot than in my readings of the other two, and I thought that was fun, I have to say though, I don’t really like Katniss very much until CF. She’s an amazing character, but I don’t like her as a person, I get she has a horrible life, but really, does she have to be so unpleasant to everyone? I think that’s one of the things Peeta helps her improve on, being likable. And it also made me realize how much I don’t like the first movie in relation to the book. The characters just felt so empty to me in the movie, and Peeta is just a complete loser in it. And while I enjoyed it again, and picked up some new hints, character traits, etc, CF is still the best of the series.

Every time I read CF I’m not let down, so much happens, but it doesn’t feel rushed (unlike another series whose movie is coming out this weekend . . .) but I think what I love most about it is the development of Katniss. I feel like CF is the only book where we really see her. In the beginning she’s still pretty much the same girl from THG, keeping everything to herself, not trusting anyone, only concerned about her family. Then after the tour, when she thinks she’s failed she relaxes a bit, but then Gale is whipped and she goes back into protection mode, keeping her family safe (which, come on, Gale is only good as her ‘cousin’ I’m sure I’ll rant about him later). But then, with the Quell she accepts that she’s going to die, and finally stops worrying about all of the big problems out of her control that she has been stressing about, and is finally able to be happy! She lets down the guard she has with Peeta and finally lets herself want him, as her comfort, her support, and her confidant; she lets herself resist to the Capitol in her own ways (that only solidify her role as the Mockingjay later) without worrying about the repercussions (I think Prim and her mom supporting her also help her), and she becomes someone likable! We also get some amazing new characters, Finnick and Johanna are great and we only learn more about in MJ. And I mean, who doesn’t love the beach scene, we all know she loves Peeta so finally a moment where she starts to admit it to herself (It reminds me of Forster’s interruption in A Room with a View where he makes a similar statement about Lucy)!

Segue into MJ, my least favorite of the trio, but as I said, I like it a bit more every time I read it. In my original reads, her voice just seemed depressed and lethargic the whole time, but this round I got more of an angry vibe, which made me enjoy it much more. And again, we see her devotion to Peeta, though it wavers for a time, but as Haymich points out she was taking her anger for what Snow had done to Peeta out on Peeta, once she acknowledged that she was nice again. Beyond getting a little more passion from her this time, we see a reversion back to the Katniss of THG, where she is trying to navigate being used by some public official and staying true to herself; which is where Finnick, Johanna, Haymich, and even Gale come in. I think all of them help her hold onto one of the traits she unveiled in CF. However, this is the book that makes me hate Gale, he was annoying in CF, but he’s just a douche in MJ. The whole time she’s grieving he’s trying to weasel his way in and make her forget about Peeta (poor Peeta, the kid can’t catch a break), then he gets super sadistic with all the weapons he helps create, and he’s just so angsty all the time! Ugh, he just drives me crazy! And he makes Katniss doubt herself and her moral and personal feelings about the war and its aftereffects, and I don’t like that. But the ending . . . maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but I don’t get her level of devastation after Prim’s death, which never really goes away. Prim was basically a grown up by CF, she proved that, and she was capable of taking care of herself, but when she dies all Katniss can think of is how she failed to protect her, which I don’t think had been her job since she left for the first games. And even though she and Peeta are together in the end and get to grow old together, I felt so empty at the end of the series. I understand they have PTSD issues to deal with (trust me, Army brat and wife), but she doesn’t seem to have healed at all by the epilogue, and seems to be almost begrudgingly with Peeta, which I don’t think is the case. Basically, I hope they make the ending happier in the movie, I don’t expect rainbows and butterflies, just a little more than “oh yea, Peeta and I got back together and after 15 years he convinced me to have kids.”

I know MJ was pretty controversial, what are your opinions? I think it was overall a good ending to the series, I just wish it had been a bit longer and had a less depressing voice throughout. Thoughts?

The Daily Post Challenge – Power of Names

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First Names

To try and strengthen my writing, and get a little more experience outside of analytical writing I am going to start doing some of the challenges posted by The Daily Post. And today’s appealed to me, names!

Names are so complex, your name, how you feel about it, choosing names for others, names of characters in books, etc. I think the names of characters is especially important, In Harry Potter so many names have links to mythology and give you additional insight into the characters traits and personalities. Then you have books like The Hunger Games (after the release of Catching Fire on DVD I found myself sucked back into re-reading the trilogy), where most of the names are things you would never think of, I know Katniss and Prim are named after plants and have family meanings, but ultimately I think it’s just really creative to come up with names like that, and they become such a part of the books followings.

For myself, who is trying to become an aspiring author, I have run into a lot of trouble with names. I love my own name so I obviously want to integrate it somehow, but I think more for a supporting character. I like names that give you a look into the characters personality or the journey they will face. Personally, I am drawn to names from my heritage, so Irish and Czech names. So, though not much writing has happened with my developing story, I have names picked out. One Irish, one Czech, which have meanings that signify their characters journeys and are unique enough to be remembered.

I have always loved name selections; my husband and I have the names of our future children, even though we don’t even know if we want children! The art of a name is something so significant to an individual, I don’t think my name, Caroline, which means “little womanly one” really unveils anything deep about me, I’m by no means the standard homemaker, and besides my enjoyment of cooking and shoes I don’t think I’m overly girly. Anyway, I have usually been the only Caroline in my schools, which is something I always took great pride in, even my middle name, Olivia, is still generally unique. Obviously, my parents were very good name givers. However, it has always driven me crazy when people try to give me a nickname or shorten my name. I lived in England for a year when I was in middle school and having a three syllable name was just too much for them with their slang and shortening of every word in the English language. People calling me Carol, has always been my most hated nickname and I refuse to respond to it, so after my English friends explained that it was just too challenging to use my whole name in conversations, I had to settle to being called Caro. As it has been my only nickname though, and one given in a unique and special time in my life, and one used only by those people who knew me then, I have grown a bit fond of it; though no one outside of the UK is allowed to use it.

So while I revolt against nicknames, and my name’s classic meaning, I love how unique and special my name makes me feel. I also love the meanings behind my favorite characters names, as well as the research for my own characters. Names can reveal things about others, and ourselves, and our chosen names reflect who we want to be seen as, which is a powerful element we have to present ourselves to the world.

Looking for inspiration, in some unusual places

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Monuments Men Book Cover

Now that I am done with all the work for my masters degree, I find I have a lot more spare time, and so far it has not been used very effectively towards writing, which is what I had originally planned. I’m going to credit my lack of productivity to a much needed mental repreive from the last year and a half of grad school (it was an accelerated program with practically no breaks between classes, so I deserve it right?). I have created a rough outline for the major events I want to take place in my book though, so thats better than nothing don’t you think? And I peruse my ‘How to Write a Book’ books regularly, I just need to let all the ideas that are coming to me from reading those books to marinate, and I’ve realized that I need to develop aspects of my characters and whatnot before I really start writing, so its not like I’m jut sitting on the couch eating bon-bons all day and watching Netflix (though there is a little bit of that happening too). Anyway, I have been reading a lot lately, and a lot of different things at that.

Right now I am reading The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel and One More Thing by B. J. Novak. I’ve always been interested in WWII history (That’s probably why I have two degrees in History . . .) and the movie “The Monuments Men” was fantastic! While I was getting my degree though I steered away from reading my usual genres of historical fiction and non-fiction, because that’s what I was reading all day for school and I wanted something completely different for pleasure reading (cue dystopian frenzy), but now that I am free of grad school assignments I am finding myself drawn back to those kinds of reads, so what better way to start than with TMM, and to add some color and breaks from historical material (which even though is very well written and interesting, it’s still something that takes brain power to read, so every once in a while you need a break and something a bit less serious) I have taken up Novak’s book of short stories, after hearing him on an NPR interview I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s different from what I expected, but I am glad I went for it.

As to the inspiration I discussed, TMM is my main source of inspiration right now, and thats because of the idea that got me thinking “Hey, I can write a book!” So far my ideas are all historically based (surprise, surprise), but I don’t want to write a historical fiction, I want to examine history from a macro point of view. Major themes like what caused people to abandon basic morality, how social hierarchies were established and instilled for centuries based on things like physical traits, etc. And I want to do this in a way that will appeal to the younger crowd, because I find that there is a growing disconnect between modern culture and historical interest (which, being a historian doesn’t make any sense to me, history repeats itself! And don’t even get me started on the horror that is the Walter White debacle – he was a major figure of the NACCP in the post war era, but now a google search will only bring up Breaking Bad references – my husband has heard many tirades from me about this).

The main idea I am addressing in my book idea is what causes groups of people, communities, and countries to follow the ideas of select individuals; and reflecting on Nazi Germany, following people with such horrific ideas like Hitler. Furthermore, the idea of the Furhermuseum, which composited selected cultural masterpieces got me thinking what benefit would that have? By only exhibiting specific aspects of certain cultures, only one message and interpretation is being displayed, providing another layer of cultural control. The premise of my book idea is that after the downfall of the U.S., the reconstructed government and its dictator consolidate aspects of the past U.S. (focussing only on the worst parts of our history) into a museum to emphasize how much “better off” their citizens are with their limited choices and whatnot. TMM I’m hoping will give me some additional perspective on this idea of selective cultural remembrance, and insight into the hope and beliefs of those few people who risked their lives trying to recover those artifacts that were stolen. I’m impressed so far with the research, writing technique, and personal traits of the “main characters,” if you have any interest in history and WWII I would definitely pick this up, the author has also written a book that specifically focuses on efforts in Italy by the MonumentsMen.

For Novak’s book, I’ve only read two of the two short stories, it’s not what I expected, and I’m not sure if thats a good thing or not. I will have to hold off my overall reaction of the book until I’m done and point out my favorite stories.

Where do you look for inspiration outside of your chosen genre?

12 Ways to Find Inspiration

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These are some really good tips, and definitely encouraging!

Pilot Fish

All writers dread those times when inspiration eludes us.  Stuck in a creative dry spell, we write mechanically, our words shriveling up on the page and our ideas evaporating into thin air.  In these moments, we are restless, fearful, superstitious.  We wonder how long we will be stuck in this desert.    We know inspiration is the key to our escape.  But where is it?   And most importantly, how can we coax it to return?

The definition of word “inspiration” sheds light on its mysterious nature.   It comes from the Latin “inspirare,” which means to breathe or blow in.   Inspiration feels like an exhilarating creative “breeze.”   It bursts into our consciousness with a heady rush–much like a blast of pure oxygen.  But it also flies out of our minds just as quickly.   How many times have I regretted an inspirational burst that was not written down…

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Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey’s icing – for St. Patricks Day!

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ImageIn celebration of my Irish roots I of course make the traditional corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, but for a St. Patrick’s Day themed meeting I didn’t know what to make. After some Pintresting I saw a lot of chocolate stout recipes and decided to alter my traditional chocolate cupcake recipe and do my own spin on the boozy treats. Baking is also my version of de-stressing, as long as there is someone else to eat everything I make, and for some reason making these while listening to The Fratellis (yes, I know they’re Scottish, but still) proved quite therapeutic.

I use Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cupcake Recipe with some tweaks. First, she must use giant muffin tins, so whenever she says a recipe will make 12, I always end up with 24, so I half the recipe. Other than that, just replace the buttermilk with Guinness and there you go.

The frosting was my creation, and since I tend to eyeball my measurements, alter this to your own taste.

8 oz. cream cheese or mascarpone (my preference because it’s not as sweet)

1/2 c heavy whipping cream

1/4 c Baily’s

1 c powdered sugar

Whip cream cheese, then add cream and Baileys and whip till soft peaks form, add powdered sugar and whip till stiff peaks achieved.

And might I say, they are delicious.